Made in God’s image: thoughts on sexual harassment- Part 1

I hesitate to approach this topic because I have so much to learn. Yet, my silence isn’t much use to anyone. So, I’m lunging forward, hoping that victims of sexual harassment will grasp the power of knowing that harassment cannot touch their intrinsic worth. 

MADE IN GOD’S IMAGE
“So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them… And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good.” (Gen. 1:27&31a)

God made man and woman–He made you— in His image. And He called you “very good.” Although “very good” included the human body, God wasn’t just talking about the shape of your nose or how pleasing your figure might be.

At a deeper level, God’s image on your being–the rational, moral, and spiritual–is what gives you beauty and worth. You are “very good” because you were created in God’s image. It’s integral; you cannot be separated from it.

But you can choose not to believe it. 

When someone’s value as an image bearer is undercut, there is pain. It’s the sort of pain that no amount of “I must have done something to deserve this” can take away. We can bury it, but we can’t really hide it. And after a while, we start to believe that we are no longer worthy of God’s image. 

Today, the discussion focuses on sexual abuse, a much more intricate and painful topic. But sometimes in our haste to address the big issues, we skim over the lingering pain of those who have been harassed but not abused. 

“Harassment is normal,” we think. Indeed, we have normalized harassment to the degree that we don’t bother addressing it. Even as a victim, this was my approach… until recently. 

IS SEXUAL HARASSMENT OKAY?
Harassment is common, not normal, and the more we normalize it, the more we give the message that it’s acceptable to harass and to be harassed. 

During my first experience with harassment, I thought I was overreacting because everyone else ignored it. So, after a few fumbled attempts at addressing it, I accepted it as par for the course in my work environment. 

Only recently have I been able to say, “This is not okay.” Why not? Because someone is trying to cheapen the image of God in me. God’s image is being objectified for the sake of someone’s pleasure or lust for power.

Clearly, harassment isn’t something we should dwell on; but, until we find healing, we will dwell on it, like it or not. By “dwell,” I don’t mean in conscious thought only; much of our “dwelling” can happen in the subconscious realm. My first incident was set aside and rarely thought of. Yet, inside of me there was a simultaneous shrinking from and hunger for the positive attention of men. 

MY EXPERIENCE
I didn’t know how much my first experience with sexual harassment had affected me until another incident occurred. Suddenly, I was dealing with the emotional aftermath of two incidents instead of one. 

But the emotions didn’t come from the incidents themselves as much as from the shame that wound its way through the memories. 

  • It is my fault. Someone implied that I had been too friendly, too familiar. 
  • I have to get over it. It wasn’t a big deal. Nobody else thought I was worth standing up for. Nobody seemed to think he should get into trouble. I tried to ignore it, but week after week of the same issue left my defenses ragged. (Sometimes I felt like I could just give in.)
  • Maybe I haven’t forgiven. Surely, if I just forgave, all of the pain and shame would vanish. 

Along with sexual harassment, there is often a sense of pleasure that comes with being noticed and desirable. That sense of pleasure is God-given (read Song of Solomon!), but in cases of sexual harassment, it typically serves to deepen the shame. We think to be a “real” victim, we must never feel anything except disgust. 

Sexual harassment attacks a vulnerable spot; therefore calling the pain to light also calls our vulnerability to light. So we hide behind masks of disgust, anger, or indifference, to name a few.

The offender is not the only victimizer. Many of us have also experienced a level of rejection from those looking on. “Get over it,” is a common sentiment from those who acknowledge what happened but don’t believe in the emotional aftermath. And there are always people who are skeptical, downplay the incident, or even defend the offender. 

Regardless of how others respond to your experience, it still happened. 

Next week, I’ll share a few ways to respond during and after an incident. In the meantime, I would be glad to hear your advice and wisdom as well. 🙂 See you next time. 

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